After months of protests by activists and grandstanding by elected officials — some who, like Queens City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer, had signed a letter begging Amazon to come to NYC — the tech giant ran out of the church as its prearranged marriage to New Yorkers was about to happen. Activists are celebrating, but it’s important to note the deal almost happened.
Leaders from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and the Teamsters still were working with Amazon, despite their public opposition, and thought there might be a deal days before the breakup.
While gentrification, corporate subservience and even the company’s facial recognition data-sharing with ICE were major concerns for activists who opposed the deal, the unions simply wanted their piece of the pie, and were ready to welcome Amazon.
Elected officials, who give away subsidies to real estate developers and other tech companies, like Uber, were similarly two-faced. It was only after the organizing of grassroots activists that pols showed any semblance of a spine in the face of Amazon’s supposedly inevitable arrival. They used public hearings to put on political shows but it’s unlikely they actually wanted Amazon out.
While much has been said about the high-paying tech jobs that were coming, does anyone believe Amazon wouldn’t have triggered out-of-town yuppies to come fill them?
Polls of registered voters, which have been highly publicized, were generally favorable to Amazon. But people weren’t presented other options, which amounts to an indictment of the city. The reason people feel a need to roll out red carpets to big companies is inextricable from the fact that New York City doesn’t appear to have vision for long-term job growth aside from Amazon. That’s a failure of elected officials, not Amazon.
So what now for Queens? City officials can still use the area that would have been an Amazon campus to train public housing residents for tomorrow’s jobs. A community center could help keep youth away from violence. Amazon is gone but residents are still here.
The real opposition to the deal was the voice of people who have felt unheard, not politicians. It might be time NYC officials start listening to them.
Josmar Trujillo is a trainer, writer and activist.